No Times for a Mystery

An oddly apathetic newsroom abruptly ends DA ethics-scandal coverage

Photo by Yoshitaka OkadaThe grand jury's recently concluded investigation of Orange County District Attorney Anthony J. "Tony" Rackauckas may reveal the most peculiar case of prosecutorial corruption in California history. For example, grand jurors asked the DA to subpoena his wife—a deputy district attorney conspicuously involved in many of the office's irregularities. The DA claimed he "was unable to contact" her. It didn't alleviate anyone's suspicions when Kay Rackauckas refused to show up at work for the entire length of the eight-month grand jury probe and apparently preferred to be fired by the county CEO rather than testify.

That history raises a troubling question: Why would Orange County's top law-enforcement couple refuse to cooperate with the panel of 19 civilians?

The mystery—one of the hot topics in the county's legal community—oddly failed to interest reporters at the Orange County edition of the Los Angeles Times. Kay Rackauckas' disappearance, avoidance of a subpoena and quiet dismissal earned not a single story in the paper. In six articles about the grand jury report and its bombshell findings, the Times mentioned her just once—at the end of a Saturday story. In that buried reference, reporter Monte Morin noted without context that there is a "perception" that Mrs. Rackauckas "had evaded a grand jury subpoena." Times readers have no idea that jurors found that the DA's wife was, in many instances, running the law-enforcement agency and improperly using its scarce resources on personal projects—some of which involved petty revenge against perceived political enemies. Nor do they know that in the biggest investigation of DA corruption in OC history, Mrs. Rackauckas' questionable behavior required an entire chapter of the report or that she was unfavorably named in six of the other 16 chapters. Comically, Times reporters have told law-enforcement officials they are done with the grand jury's report and believe that their articles were accurate and thorough.

No story demonstrates the Times' failure more than "DA's Struggle on Ethics Tightrope." The July 6 article by reporters Stuart Pfeifer and Jack Leonard must have brought a sigh of relief to Rackauckas and his overworked public-relations team. The DA blocked prosecution of wealthy friends allegedly involved in criminal enterprises, used thousands of taxpayer dollars for drinking parties at private men's clubs or Palm Springs hotel bars, and gave reporters confidential personnel files on unsupportive deputy DAs. But to Times reporters, the real problem was merely "blurred" ethics lines faced by elected officials. They also asserted that "around California, other district attorneys have faced similar accusations of mixing politics and justice."

"Rackauckas is far from alone," Pfeifer and Leonard claimed. As evidence, they cited just two weak examples: an opponent's accusation six years ago that then-Los Angeles District Attorney Gil Garcetti cracked down on trademark-infringement violators after taking a large contribution from a major clothing manufacturer, and San Diego DA Paul Pfingst's taking a contribution from a stock speculator later indicted on federal charges.

Note to the Times: there are 58 counties in California. Orange County is the only one in recent memory a grand jury and its professional law-enforcement investigators issued an alarming, detailed report outlining—in 100 pages—corruption, cronyism and mismanagement by the DA himself and—don't forget—his missing wife.

It is also important to remember that neither case cited by Pfiefer and Leonard carried the powerful weight of a lengthy grand jury investigation.

"It is remarkable how easy the Times has been on Tony," said one veteran law-enforcement source.

But there may be a conscience at the paper. On July 7—one day after the Pfeifer-Leonard story—the editorial staff opined that the "substantive findings" against Rackauckas "simply cannot [be brushed] aside."

To the DA's relief, that conclusion isn't shared in the Times newsroom.

This is the fourth in a series of articles about the grand jury's recent findings of corruption in the district attorney's office. Visit "Watching the Detective" in our archives.
 
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